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  • Writer's pictureVincent Pruis

Rose Garden

Another in the friendly loves/lovely friends series.

5.19 Sprawled on the couch, D’s not more than a few feet from the veggie platter, but he still jokes that it’s too far away, so I swipe a purple carrot through some hummus, and I feed him. We look like a Renaissance painting, that painting with the woman lounging, being fed grapes.

“That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen,” H gasps from across the room.

I laugh, because if I’d made some airplane noises before placing the carrot in D’s mouth, it definitely wouldn’t be seen as “romantic,” and because this can’t possibly be the most romantic thing H has seen outside a movie: it’s just a silly--and caring--moment between friends.

But when I remember this silly--and caring--moment years later, I realize we’re often taught that friendships aren’t allowed to have any moments that could be interpreted as romantic. In turn, we’re robbed of a million ways to love our friends.

9.14 After the dance, I drive C home. When I park my Subaru on the street, he invites me to follow him through the dark past the house to the garden out back. The whole fenceline is heady with pink and white roses, their smell an alchemy that turns the sugared excitement of the evening to molasses. Slowly, he surveys them all, for heft, for scent, for softness. Then, gently, he plucks the two best roses and presents them to me: a gift. To this day, I’ve never received more beautiful flowers.

10.18 B always picks up my calls. As I walk from Capitol Hill to Queen Anne under rain-blurred streetlamps twice a week, he tells me about his day; he helps me feel safe crossing the city alone at night, safer than my pepper spray and metal water bottle. So much of Seattle is painted with his voice in my memory.

2.16 We walk along a green twilight to the shipping canal. The docks where P likes to smoke are only a ten minute stroll from campus, and we talk there sometimes, feet dangling over disturbed water. I’m thinking about the prompt to write a love poem for my poetry workshop. Thinking about the way seeing someone’s face by their lighter, tasting their exhalations, feels intimate. I start drafting a ghazal, later published in the Long Island Literary Journal:

On The Dock Beside Him​

It’s February fourteenth, yet all I can write about

is the way he smokes his cigarettes:

so many romantic themes to choose from,

and I invoke his cigarettes.

I really only like him because he looks like

Heath Ledger playing Pat Verona

in that rom-com, ‘specially when our

squabbles provoke his cigarettes.

Swear it’s the image I care for, not his

His that curves over the dock, smooth

as a crew stroke, skin radiating silver heat,

as he smokes his cigarettes…

I shiver in the wake of his dimpled smirk,

which more than shines; it shimmers

off the canal with houseboat porch lights,

and it cloaks his cigarettes.

Here above the water, I’m more him than me,

more smoke than Vin, as I draw

the contents of his chest into mine and,

second-hand, smoke his cigarettes.

4.17 Snoqualmie pass is backed up for hours. We’ve just reached the summit, but it took nearly three hours in stop-and-go traffic to get here. My knees ache. A has driven me over this pass dozens of times, and today I’m finally driving, and I hate it. We both hate driving. I pull over to do some jumping jacks, and A jumps into the driver’s seat. I nearly cry. Whenever someone says “acts of service” I’m transported to this moment of exhaust and exhaustion and relief.

8.15 I convince two friends to join me in surprising S with the promise that he’ll not only be touched but also embarrassed. The night before S leaves for college, three of us drive over to his house and decorate his car with bright window paint. “You still up?” I text him. “Come outside!”

He’s more touched than I expected--none of his other friends had thought to send him off. So, to return the favor of our sloppy messages (“we love you” “good luck”), he gives us shots of chocolate milk, and we accidentally wake his dad with our laughter.

19/20 There have been many poems written in my honor, but my favorites are from M and H. Poems about our camping trips, our madnesses, about how I showed them the home I grew up in. When I was a teenager, I saw a Facebook post about how people either get to be poets or the subject of a poem in their lives, but I get to be both.

5.19 One year A gives me a bundle of purple tulips for my dorm room, my favorite. Several springs later we go to the Skagit Valley tulip festival. The fields are dotted with tourists in pairs, some couples,--some perhaps friends like us, who simply wanted company in beauty. To see the tulips in all their colors and patterns, in their variance and expansivity. We mimic the pose of an adorable little girl we see--one finger dimpling our cheeks, head tilted, a grin bright as daffodils against the grey overcast sky.

9.15 When I move to college, G suggests we begin an exchange: I send him a poem, he sends me a piano composition in response. And so it spirals on. A stanza, a melody, a stanza, a chord, a line, a long note. Messages to each other's voicemails and mailboxes. Though the structure fizzles out, in the future when he moves to London, we’ll continue to write each other letters, some five or six pages long. They’ll be tucked into my letter box under my bed, even after he gets married, and the pages will soften from years of rereads.

3.20 At the bar, my cohort votes me the most trustworthy to take you home when you’re drunk. Something about my reliable aura. Later that night, I escort a friend home, after all. I carry her to the Lyft, help her up her stairwell one step at a time, take off her shoes, and clear papers off of her bed so she can lie down as I fill a glass of water. “Vince, VINCE, I have a secret to tell you,” she says. “I’ve never been this drunk,” she confesses: “This is the first time I’ve trusted someone enough.” It’s an honor to have friends who trust me, whom I can trust back.

So much of expressing love is based on trust. Trust that their love, my love, our love, does not demand anything.

9.21 T tattoos my belly--hands on bare skin--and I gift her an enormous bouquet of orange and purple flowers on her birthday:--our colors. Her boyfriend’s friends might warn the boyfriend of me (a threat!), but she and I know who we are to each other, and that means we’re able to care for each other deeply and well.

10.21 This same trust is what allows B to rest his head on my shoulder as we watch a movie Friday, unworried by proximity.

This trust is a form of resistance to what a toxic, binary culture of hetero- and allo-normativity teaches us. Heteronormativity breeds suspicion. According to heteronormativity (the idea that men invariably end up in--obligatorily monogamous--sexual relationships with women), men and women can’t be friends with each other: they’re expected to "fall in love." And acts of care are seen as an indicator that those boundaries have been crossed. (Nonbinary people complicate the whole issue even more.) At the same time that heteronormativity is barring two-gender friendships, homophobia breeds suspicion among same-gender friendships, too. “Why are they so close? That’s sus.”

Our culture tries to tell us that the only meaningful relationship in our life is a heterosexual and monogamous one. Any other relationship, including friendship, that expresses love or care is a threat. What a loss that is, to believe we can only find love in one place, and that we cannot love our friends, and that if our friends love us they must want something else. All this suspicion robs us of a multitude of intimacies and tender moments, like the ones above. And it’s unnecessary. Because we’re not all built as either man or woman, as one desiring only the other, and incapable of anything else.

We are complex beings, who deserve complex, multitudinous, and deeply caring relationships with other people. We all deserve people in our lives who will lead us to the back garden to pick, carefully, the best smelling roses that stem out from their fence’s gaps.

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